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Fanatics Fest Makes a Play for Live Events

By Mark Seavy

Fanatics is making a play for live events with its mid-summer Fanatics Fest NYC show.

The three-day event will feature a 2,500-seat main stage and a show floor encompassing more than 400,000 square feet. Fanatics Fest has the support of the NFL, NBA, WNBA, MLB, NHL, MLS, UFC, and WWE. Additionally, Fanatics-owned companies Topps and the PWCC trading card marketplace will join the PSA Collector’s Club and other corporate entities at the show.

Fanatics Fest follows months of groundwork by Fanatics in the live events space. The company hired Lance Fensterman, the former President of Reed Exhibitions’ ReedPOP pop culture business who headed up events like Comic Con and last year’s Star Wars Celebration. Fanatics also launched WWE World at WrestleMania earlier this month and in the past has worked with IMG on The Mint Collective hobby event.

And while sports collectibles have long been subject to regional and local shows, the sports collectibles business hasn’t fielded a truly national event like Comic Con that is replete with panel discussions, star athlete appearances, and vast amounts of merchandise.

Given Fanatics’ manufacturing capacity and deep ties with professional leagues (many of which are also investors in the company), gaining an adequate supply of merchandise for the event is a guarantee. The company operates over 300 online and offline stores and has relationships with more than 1,000 product vendors and 150 college and professional teams.

With the launch of Fanatics Fest, however, the question remains whether other pro sports licensees—many of which are technically Fanatics competitors—will choose to participate in the event in order to connect with fans in person.

There has been a mixed response from other licensees thus far as to whether they will field a booth at Fanatics Fest. Among the collectibles companies unlikely to attend will be trading card supplier Panini, which is embroiled in legal battles with Fanatics. The number of licensees that ultimately choose to participate will likely affect the event’s success, as the breadth of merchandise and product giveaways at fan-focused events like Comic Con are considered to be a significant contributor to their ongoing popularity.

“There will be some licensees that enthusiastically embrace it and others that will take a pass,” said Steve Scebelo, President of sports and licensing consulting firm REP Worldwide and former President of NFL Players Inc. “If this event succeeds, it lifts all boats and there isn’t a downside—but that doesn’t mean all leagues will participate.”

When it comes to bringing in fans, a major draw for Fanatics Fest will be the participation of a number of sports stars. Among the pro stars expected to attend the event are Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Derek Jeter, Kevin Durant, Sabrina Ionescu, and Hulk Hogan. Many of the athletes are part of the Fanatics Authentic business, the company’s destination for sports memorabilia.

“The fact that Tom Brady, Derek Jeter, and others are going to be there is what it’s about and that is why [the event] can work,” said Matthew Hoffman, former President of collectibles company Uncanny Brands. This focus on putting fans in the same space as beloved celebrities is another major reason that Comic Con has remained so popular over the years, he said.

The first Fanatics Fest will likely have “growing pains” but fills the increasing desire of fans for meeting pro sports stars through autograph signings, panel discussions, and other events, Scebelo said.

“Fanatics has customer relationships and knows who buys licensed sports gear, trading cards, and memorabilia, and now they have sports betting,” said Scebelo. “They have far greater access to a universe of fans than anybody. They didn’t see anybody else putting together an event like this, so why cede the space? If the event survives, it will look different in year five or ten than it did in the first year. But the fact there is a year one is great for sports.”

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